Today is the first in my new series of Sunday Sojourns, looking at historical sites or buildings, which have either acted as inspiration, or mean a lot to, a writer / their characters. Now, I could have been really cynical here, and gone for a blatant novel plug, with the Tower of London, but no – honesty shall prevail. I shall instead go for my favourite castle, Duart Castle, on the Isle of Mull.
I first visited Duart on a family holiday to Mull, and was immediately captivated. This was a ‘proper castle’, one which could actually withstand a decent siege effort. With walls up to 10ft thick in places, it has been the stronghold of the Macleans and the seat of the clan for centuries. The oldest walls of the recently-restored castle date from the 1300s.
It also has a truly castle-like set of tales, including the infamous Lady’s Rock. In 1527, the Laird decided to be rid of his wife, Catherine Campbell, sister to the Earl of Argyle. Rowing out at low tide, he left his wife on the tiny rock, abandoning her to drown as the sea levels rose, and, observing the rock was empty the next morning, sent a message of condolence to the Earl. He duly travelled to Inverary with his wife’s coffin, and was immediately welcomed into the great hall for refreshment. And who should be sat at the head of her table? Lady Catherine herself, having been rescued from the rock by passing fishermen. Nothing further was said about the incident, but the Laird of Duart was murdered by another of Lady Catherine’s brothers when he later visited Edinburgh.
More recent, pleasant tales include the use of the castle by Hollywood, where it became Sean Connery’s base in “Entrapment”. Especially given his Maclean ancestry.
Two years ago, when I was up in Oban for a course, I took the chance to revisit, and I still get chills sailing past on the ferry. The castle still guards the area, and with the café and gift-shop tucked out of sight, thing look as they must have done when battles continued to rage. Thankfully, the only ‘invaders’ these days are the coachloads of tourists, including me.
On a misty, rainy Tuesday afternoon, listening to stags bellowing and rutting nearby, I’m reminded why, wherever I go, my heart will always crave and proper castle. And Duart is perfect.